It ain't over until it's over.
Marcus Mariota's situation has changed in Vegas, but the idea of Mariota ending up with the Patriots has not yet been entirely snuffed out.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Mariota re-worked his contract with the Raiders to take a reduced salary in 2021. While at the moment it seems as though he'll stick with the team, Rapoport acknowledged a trade involving Mariota has not been ruled out.
That second part is key. Mariota's contract is now eminently tradeable. Before Tuesday, it wasn't.
Mariota's original deal was scheduled to pay him $10.6 million in base salary in 2021 and carry a cap hit of over $15 million. Not ideal for a team with an established starting quarterback in Derek Carr and another veteran backup making $1 million guaranteed in Nathan Peterman.
That deal is now up in smoke, and Mariota is reportedly on a one-year contract worth $3.5 million that could pay him up to $8 million with incentives. The restructure helps save the Raiders several million in cap space if they keep him. It also gives Vegas the opportunity to clear even more cap space -- as well as provide them potential draft capital -- in a trade.
ISSUE WITH MARIOTA'S OLD DEAL
Part of the reason Mariota hasn't already been dealt this offseason was because of his previous contract. No one wanted it, apparently, because it carried incentives that would've paid him up to $22 million if he became a starter.
It was a lot to ask for the Patriots or any other quarterback-needy club to take a chance on trading for Mariota then possibly paying him over $20 million. The cap hit would've been spread over two years, and the low-$20 million range is market value for a veteran starter these days -- Carolina's Teddy Bridgewater makes $21 million per year -- but the hesitation from teams was reasonable. Was Mariota really worth receiving a bloated salary like a bonafide starter when the last time he was seen in action on a consistent basis was in Tennessee in 2019 prior to losing his job to Ryan Tannehill?
But now that a team would be forking over at most $8 million for Mariota, trade talks should open up again.
For the Raiders, it made sense not to release Mariota and get nothing for him in return. (Plus, even if they keep him as a backup it won't cost an exorbitant sum of money to pay both Mariota and Peterman.)
For Mariota, it made sense to accept this new deal and have a legitimate opportunity to play elsewhere if traded.
This, it seems, is a compromise. And if a team comes calling with a real trade offer, both Mariota and the Raiders could benefit.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE PATRIOTS
For Bill Belichick's club, it'd make sense for a variety of reasons to get in on the Mariota discussion. He's 27 years old. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft. And when healthy he possesses a dangerous physical skill set that was briefly on display this past season.
The value of Mariota's new contract combined with those of Cam Newton ($5.5 million cap hit) and Jarrett Stidham ($1 million) would still leave the Patriots with a quarterback room that is, relative to the rest of the NFL, extremely cost-effective.
Additionally, Mariota hasn't been as ineffective as his recent track record would indicate. Even before he gave way to Tannehill with the Titans, he had a quarterback rating over 90, he averaged 7.5 yards per attempt, and he had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3-to-1. In 2018, there's a fairly easy argument to be made that he was a top-20 quarterback.
Lastly, Mariota's addition wouldn't preclude the Patriots from making a real investment at the quarterback position in the draft. Trading for him wouldn't require a first-round pick -- probably something closer to a third or fourth -- which theoretically could keep the No. 15 overall pick and future draft capital free to be used on one of the top-five passers in this year's class. Mariota's addition might also help prevent the Patriots from trying to force something in the draft at quarterback.
Bringing aboard Mariota wouldn't suddenly make the Patriots a Super Bowl contender, of course. But he is now an inexpensive quarterback flier, when before Tuesday he was a more high-priced gamble. For a team like the Patriots that could use an upgrade at that position after upgrading their roster elsewhere in free agency, dealing for Mariota is certainly worthy of exploration.